from lonely planet

Travel on a budget

21 free things to do in Tokyo

Welcome to Tokyo

Exploring the Big Sushi is a mind-blowing experience, but it can also blow your budget. Don't despair – there’s an abundance of things to do and see in Tokyo that don’t cost a single yen.

Stroll (or jog) around the Imperial Palace

Follow the broad moats and park paths that surround the Imperial Palace for views of its famous bridges and medieval keeps. All total, it’s 5km around the palace grounds – a popular local jogging course.

Cast your bid for Toyosu

Want to witness Tokyo’s famous tuna auction at Toyosu Market? Set your alarm early. It only goes from 5 am - 6:30 am.

Soak up the atmosphere at Tsukiji

Tsukiji Market still has a bunch of old stalls selling dried laver, pickles, bamboo rolling mats and more. Come early to get breakfast from the food vendors and to bask in some old Tokyo ambience.

Visit Sensō-ji

Follow in the footsteps of countless pilgrims by approaching Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s most famous Buddhist temple, in Asakusa, along Nakamise-dōri.

Explore Harajuku

Check out the arty explosion at funky Design Festa gallery or hang out in Yoyogi-kōen, with its dancers and drum circles.

Chill out in Meiji-jingū

When Harajuku threatens sensory overload, escape to the densely wooded grounds that envelope the capital’s premier Shintō shrine, Meiji-jingū. If you’re lucky, you might spot a traditional wedding procession.

Oh my, Odaiba!

This island of reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay is linked to the city by the Rainbow Bridge. Walk over where you can sunbathe on an artificial beach (weather permitting), see a Statue of Liberty replica, or gaze upon a larger-than-life Gundam statue.

Watch washi making

Lessons in the art of paper folding are offered for a fee at the Origami Kaikan, but you can view artisans making washi (Japanese paper) in the workshop here, and peruse the gallery, for nix.

Do the Shibuya scramble

Every few minutes a wave of humanity flows across Shibuya Crossing. Join the masses or stand back and watch. An ideal vantage point is Mag's Park, on the roof of the Shibuya 109-2 department store.

Advertising Museum Tokyo

One of Tokyo's most interesting free museums is the Advertising Museum Tokyo (ADMT). The montage displays of old ads provide an illuminating visual history of commerce in Japan over the last century or so.

Geek out in Shinjuku

Fans of kaiju (Japanese monster flicks) will want to pay their respects to the giant Godzilla that lords over the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku.

Contemporary Art Crawl

Based in a former junior high school, near Akihabara, is 3331 Arts Chiyoda, which houses a score of free contemporary art galleries offering a mix of exhibitions and interactive installations.

Political junkie tour

Art and anime not your thing? Then how about a free tour of Japan’s seat of governance, the National Diet, to view the wood-panelled, leather-bound and gilded interiors and the gardens planted with species from across the country.

Green spaces

Free-to-enter gardens include those attached to the Hotel New Ōtani in Akasaka and the Hotel Chinzanso, as well as the lush grounds of Happō-en, near Shirokanedai Station, and the Imperial Palace East Garden.

Attend a festival

Almost every week there’s a matsuri (festival) of some kind on somewhere in Tokyo – from cherry-blossom-viewing parties to fire walking and grand parades of costumed participants holding aloft mikoshi (portable shrines). For details of upcoming events see

Amble around Yanesen

The streets of Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi – three areas collectively known as Yanesen – provide an idea of what pre-WWII Tokyo was like.

Watch sumo practice

Even if you can't make a sumo tournament, you can see sumo wrestlers going through their training drills at a sumo 'stable', such as Arashio Stable, where visitors watch the morning practice session (asa-keiko) through windows on the street.

Play with tomorrow's technology

No need to resort to industrial espionage: at Toyota’s public showroom, Mega Web you can test drive prototypes of the automaker’s Winglet – a Segway-like personal mobility vehicle.

Public art and architecture in Roppongi

There’s plenty of public art scattered around the glitzy commercial complexes of Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, as well as dazzling contemporary architecture at the National Art Center Tokyo.

Time for a beer break

The Yebisu Beer Museum, run by one of Japan’s largest brewers, covers the history of beer in Japan, including displays of cool vintage posters and bottles. Tastings sadly aren’t free, but a serving here is only ¥400.

Get high on an observation deck

Survey the city 202m above ground from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – on a clear day you may catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji.